Lessons I Learned on Wall Street – Part 4: Be Concise

It’s that wonderful time of year…the time when we celebrate the holidays, get together with family, shop, cook, and are downright BUSY. I love the holidays. I really do. I love everything about them except for the busyness.

Take a minute and think about how busy your life is right now. Then multiply that by three. Now imagine every day of your week being like that. That’s life on Wall Street.

During my time working on Wall Street I dealt with very busy executives. I very quickly learned that I had to get to my point. Immediately. Because if I didn’t, they were no longer listening.

As a recruiter, I was guilty of that myself. I corresponded with thousands of candidates a year and when it rained, it poured. Some days, I would speak with and/or e-mail more than 200 candidates in one day. The last thing I ever wanted to hear on the phone or read in an e-mail was, “let me tell you a little about myself.” When that happened, I would often find myself tuning out because the person hadn’t given me a reason to want to listen to their story.

Lesson #4 – Be Concise

Let me get straight to the point. If you want to be successful, both in searching for a job and in your career as a whole you have to stop wasting people’s time. Time is a limited resource and if you want people to give you their time you have to make it worth their while. In part, that means being an expert on the topic you’re discussing, which we covered in Lesson #1 – Do your homework. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The second part of using people’s time effectively is to be concise.

When I worked in finance, I would sometimes spend hours writing and editing e-mails trying to make sure I had provided clear and comprehensive information. The phone calls and e-mail responses I would receive clearly demonstrated that the other parties had not paid any attention to the information I had painstakingly gathered and explained. And you know what I learned? You get ONE sentence to make your point. Maybe two if you’re lucky.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing or calling on the phone, you have a very short amount of time to convince someone to listen to you. High-powered executives and other busy people make it through their day by being selective about what they pay attention to. They schedule short meetings, they skim e-mails, and they only halfway listen to phone calls. The best chance you have of conveying important information and getting the response you need is to get right to the point. Here’s how you do that…

When you’re communicating in writing – Whether it’s an e-mail, cover letter, resumes, or other written communication everything you write should drive toward your point. In the job search process, that point is always that you are the best candidate for the job.

Start by clearly stating your point. For example, “Hi Joe, I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page for our meeting later today”, or “I would like to be considered for the Project Manager position listed on your website”.

If you’re e-mail is intended to thoroughly cover a specific topic, try starting with an executive summary which sums up the main point of the e-mail in one sentence. Then people will know what your e-mail is about and can read it in detail when they have time to pay appropriate attention to it.

Edit everything you write. If you make any changes, re-read and make any additional edits. It’s time consuming, but it will give you the best results. As you edit, continually ask yourself whether each sentence is driving toward your point. If it’s not, take it out.

When you’re communicating by phone – Plan out what you are going to say before you make the call. Make a bullet-point list of the talking points you would like to cover. Keep the list as brief as possible. Organize your talking points in order of importance, with the most important point first (in case you run out of time to finish the call). While you are on the call, keep your list of talking points in front of you. Make sure everything you say is driving toward one of those points.

If the call is related to your job search or is to introduce yourself to someone for the first time you should also write out your first sentence or two. Those are the sentences that will determine whether someone will gladly make time to talk to you or whether they conveniently are “about to run into a meeting” and can’t take your call. Make sure you clearly and concisely state the purpose for your call. I also recommend practicing these sentences aloud a few times until you feel comfortable and they sound natural.

Even with your best efforts, there will be some people who blow you off or don’t give you their full attention. This holiday season I hope that you can make good use of your time by getting to the point, and can save some time for the important things in life, like your family and friends.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.